Neath rugby people – indeed, rugby people across the globe – will be delighted to hear that former Welsh All Blacks and Wales back row forward Dai Morris has been awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
Dai Morris joined Neath in March 1963 making his debut against Loughborough Colleges and rapidly established himself in the all-powerful Neath pack of the time as an iron-hard, scrupulously clean, try-scoring No.8 with an uncanny instinct for being in the right place at the right time.
He was an integral member of the Neath team which carried all before them in winning the Welsh championship and the Anglo-Welsh title in 1966/67 and his talents were recognised by the Welsh selectors when he won his first Wales cap against France in Paris on April 1, 1967.
That was to be his first of 34 caps (a then record for a Neath forward, overtaking the great Rees Stephens) through to 1974 and Dai’s final cap against England. He also played in then non-capped games against Argentine (twice in 1968), Fiji (1969) and Canada (1971).
A quiet, self-effacing and most widely respected member of the successful Wales sides of the time, Dai was an outstanding support runner, never far away from the ball, so much so that the great Gareth Edwards dubbed him his “Shadow” and this invaluable quality helped Dai make many tries for Wales.
He scored 6 tries himself too – his first coming in only his second international against England in 1967, then against Ireland (1969), Australia (1969), Scotland (1970), France (1970) and his last against Australia in 1973. He toured Argentina (1968) and New Zealand (1969) with Wales but was a reluctant air-traveller and this probably cost him his place on the Lions tour of 1971.
He established a new record for a Neath forward in 1964/65 when he crossed for 23 tries. That feat was matched by fellow back rower Mike Thomas in 1970/71 and, alongside Scotland international Wilson Lauder, they formed a brilliant back row in the Neath centenary team which created special history by winning the inaugural Welsh Cup in 1971/72.
Dai’s outstanding footballing skills shone through too in the sevens game and he was a member of the Neath teams which won the Snelling Sevens in 1964 and 1970.
Despite suffering a career-threatening knee injury in October 1974, Dai battled his way back and carried on playing for Neath until 1977 when he departed the first-class scene with over 400 appearances for Neath and he scored 146 tries for the Blacks. He also appeared for the Barbarians and for many other select and representative sides but his career was not done as he continued playing for many years for his home village club Rhigos RFC.
Neath secretary Mike Price said, “Without any doubt at all, Dai Morris is one of the best and most popular rugby football players ever to grace the great Game. Everybody at Neath congratulates him on this honour which is very well deserved – his recognition by Her Majesty is entirely appropriate and the award will be truly appreciated in Neath and across Wales. ”
* The Neath club has double reason to celebrate as an MBE was also awarded to Janet Waldron, daughter of Ron, for her services to education. So it is congratulations all round !